Chet Holmgren is the most polarizing prospect in the NBA 2022 draft. To some talented evaluators, he seems like the best player available; for others, he doesn’t even belong to the first three consensuals.
As the central stance continues to evolve and adapt to the modern NBA, Holmgren, a 7-footer with guarding prowess, may just be the big man teams are looking for. And while he still has doubts about him, and will until he proves himself in the NBA, all the numbers and highlights point to a certain strength: Holmgren’s defense is so impressive it can’t fail. .
While the 2010s in the NBA were dominated by the big winger, a new breed of big man currently rules the championship. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic teamed up to win the last four MVP awards, and that pair and Joel Embiid went 1-2-3 in this year’s voting. But none of them made it to the finals of the conference, raising questions, once again, about the role of the big names in the contenders. (Of course, all three also suffered from oddities on the list beyond their control, from costly injuries to Khris Middleton, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., to the Ben Simmons-James Harden fiasco in Philadelphia.)
But even with that setback in the playoffs, the 2022 postseason also reinforced an element of the need for a big man: All four conference finalists rated better defensively than offense in the regular season, and the two teams that they reached the finals they also boasted the top two defenses in the league. And what is the most important principle of NBA defense? Rim protection. Enter Holmgren, the league’s next dead defender.
At Gonzaga last season, Holmgren blocked 12.6% of opponents’ 2-point attempts, according to KenPom, who finished 10th in the country and first in Kevin O’Connor’s top 30 draft candidates. And Holmgren wasn’t just bullying disproportionate weaklings at the West Coast Conference. His block rate against teams ranked in KenPom’s national top 100 was 12.4%, essentially the same as his overall rate. On a per-game basis, Holmgren averaged 3.7 blocks in all of his games and 3.7 blocks when he faced the top 100 opponents.
The other players at the top of this draft don’t come close in comparison. While Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero both register at 6 feet-10, allegedly allowing them to operate as NBA big names, their college lockout rates were only 3.8% and 2.7% respectively. Holmgren is the only member of the trio who can anchor a defense.
Holmgren’s college performance also compares favorably to the 24 big men with college stats who have been chosen in the top five since 2002. (This is KenPom’s first year with detailed player data; this tally does not include players without NCAA stats. or James Wiseman, who has only played three games for Memphis. Here we are referring to “great men” as players who have spent at least 25 percent of their NBA minutes in the middle, according to Basketball-Reference’s positional designations.)
Of that group of 24, the only players with a better block rate in recent college seasons than Holmgren are Jaren Jackson Jr., Anthony Davis, and Greg Oden; near Holmgren are Hasheem Thabeet, Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Best college lockout rate in top 5 picks (since 2002)
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||2018||14.3%|
|City of Carlo Antonio||2015||11.5%|
This is a significant indicator for Holmgren’s future in the NBA: as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote, the block rate translates from college to pros better than any other statistic. And in this example, that relationship is mostly valid too. For example, on the other end of the list, only five big names in this sample had a college lockout rate of less than 5%: Marvin Bagley III, Thomas Robinson, Drew Gooden, Cody Zeller, and Jahlil Okafor. The big names who fail to protect the circle in college fail to succeed in the NBA.
To be fair, the high-block college greats list doesn’t provide a perfect NBA success rate – persistent injuries derailed Oden’s career, and Thabeet is one of this century’s great draft blows. But there is also a huge gap between the rest of Holmgren’s game in addition to his shot block and the rest of Thabeet’s. Holmgren possesses a mobility that the heavy Thabeet has never had and his offensive potential is immensely higher.
Chet Holmgren versus Hasheem Thabeet in the final college season
|Statistics||Chet Holmgren||Hasheem Thabeet|
|Statistics||Chet Holmgren||Hasheem Thabeet|
|3P%||39%||n / a|
Expand the comps pool to all the lottery greats since 2002 and there are more misses among the draftees topping the college block rankings. Mo Bamba is a recent example of a big guy who didn’t go as hoped when he didn’t. 6 in the 2018 draft, and others like Cole Aldrich, Ekpe Udoh and Hilton Armstrong failed to convert the college production into an NBA hit.
But this is where Holmgren’s offensive abilities come into play, as with the confrontation with Thabeet: unlike those failed lottery picks, Holmgren turns his prodigious edge strikes into a two-way production. There is a reason why Aldrich, with a dominant block rate of 13.0 percent in his last college season but little offensive play, fell to No. 11 choose instead to enter the top three, as Holmgren will surely do this week.
For a modern big man, Holmgren boasts almost an ideal offensive skill set. He’s a skilled finisher on the edge – his 2-point accuracy of 73.7 percent has led Division I players with at least 100 attempts – and he’s already a capable and willing shooter too, with a college 3-point score of 39 percent on three attempts per game. Its 72% accuracy in free throws bodes well, as the percentage of free throws is an even better predictor of NBA shooting potential.
Very few great men in the past two decades have offered anything that came close to Holmgren’s particular combination of rim protection and shooting prowess. This chart includes all the lottery greats over the past 20 years with at least an 11% block rate and 70% free throw accuracy in its last college season. Not a long list. (It also demonstrates the allure of Duke’s Mark Williams, who could be picked in the lottery alongside Holmgren on Thursday.)
Lottery picks with high block rates and high free throws (since 2002)
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||4, 2018||14.3%||80%|
|Antonio Davis||1, 2012||13.8%||71%|
|Chet Holmgren||???, 2022||12.6%||72%|
|Myles Turner||11, 2015||12.3%||84%|
|City of Carlo Antonio||1, 2015||11.5%||81%|
|Marco Williams||???, 2022||11.5%||73%|
It’s also an incredibly encouraging series of comparisons. Davis and Towns are multiple All-NBA honorees who have signed maximum contracts. Jackson is still in development, but he was worth a nine-figure extension even before finishing fifth in the Defender of the Year vote last season.
Turner deserves a closer look given the few warning signs in Holmgren’s profile. Defensively, Turner is an inner strength, as a two-time block champion, who can be played off the pitch in some matchups. In attack, he provides space as a skilled 3-point shooter, but averages only 10-15 points per game every season of his career because he has never commanded the ball as a high-utilization creator.
This is a conceivable result for Holmgren, but Odensque’s injuries aside, it looks like the worst case result, because he predicts that Holmgren will not develop at all beyond his current skill set. Due to his unique physique, Holmgren is seen more as a “high / low ceiling player” than his peers at the top of the draft board, but his floor resembles Turner, who is still one of the best players of the 2015 draft. class with any provision. (I admit I may be biased here, as Turner’s longtime believer.)
Concerns about Holmgren’s stature and build still abound, but his size hasn’t slowed him down during bouts of tremendous success in high school or college, and he’ll have plenty of time to bulk up past 200lbs. He might not match pound for pound with Embiid, but as J. Kyle Mann wrote The player In an extensive Holmgren scouting report, other major picks, from Davis to Kevin Durant, added significant muscle once he reached the NBA.
Ultimately, Holmgren encompasses all the most important skills for a modern big: rim protection, mobility to contain the protections, rim finishing and wheelbase. He combines all those disparate pieces into a lanky 7 foot body and the results are statistically spectacular.
Holmgren’s plus-minus box, an all-in-one statistic that estimates a player’s total value, is the third best for a freshman in the Sports-Reference database (spanning 2011-12). Every other player in the top five is a great man who is already a star in the NBA or, in Evan Mobley’s case, is well on his way. And Davis, Towns, and Jackson all appear at the top of this list too.
Best Box Plus-Minus among freshmen (from 2011-12)
|City of Carlo Antonio||14.3|
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||11.7|
Holmgren isn’t actually a high / low ceiling player. He has the highest roof in the 2022 draft And a tremendously high floor. On Thursday night, a lucky fan base can start cheering on his immense potential.